Any Fretless Tips?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Crested Radish, Dec 2, 2003.

  1. Hi All.

    I'm taking delivery of a Ricky fretless tomorrow, and was wondering if there's any useful snippets of info. anyone may have for moving to a fretless from fretted.

    I'm about 3 years in, experience wise - never touched a fretless.
  2. Planet Boulder

    Planet Boulder Hey, this is a private Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2001
    6,482 feet above sea level
    I once had impure thoughts. Oh, and I pluck my ear hair.
    For proper intonation, play with the tips of your fingers as opposed to playing "flat-fingered" like you may do on a fretted.
  3. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    I just recently bought my first fretless also (bought a fretless essex P about a month and a lil ago) ...i would, at first, play a little slower and make sure you are gettin the note right, because even if you miss by a little, it makes a difference.
  4. mark beem

    mark beem Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    Don't expect to master it over night... Nor in your entire lifespan.. ;)
  5. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    Play along with recorded music as a reference to help train your ears. Also, you can incorporate open strings and harmonics into your lines to use as a reference.
  6. NV43345


    Apr 1, 2003
    It depends on the song, and the sound you want, sometimes I like what I call a clean Fretless
    sound and sometimes I like more mwaaah. so on the
    notes I want a little more mwaaah on I tend to
    "slide into the note" and sometimes add a touch
    of vibrato.
  7. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    got meeeself a fretless about 6 months ago. i feel i'm becoming quite proficient on it. here's some things i did that were helpful....

    first and most importantly, play it as much as humanly possible and don't get discouraged. it felt a little hopless for me in the beginning, but it all comes together.

    - know that you body WILL LEARN the neck independent from your brain (for the most part anyhow) and if you play for hours and hours and hours it will start to come more naturally.

    - as embellisher said, play to the open strings and harmonics to make sure you're playing in tune. find really simple songs that you can jam to - i just happened to have been learning Last Dance With Mary Jane when i got the bass, and it was great for practicing purposes.

    - don't be afraid to slide into the notes. I thought it was lame at the beginning, but i'm finding the more I do it the quicker I can hone in on exactly what I want. slide all over the place, have fun.

    - go from low to high notes on a string over and over and over till you nail them. example - play an open D and then hit an A on the G string , open D, and then a D on the G string.

    - one of the coolest most fun things I did was put nylon strings on. the roundwounds my bass came with started ripping into the neck after only a couple of weeks. i have nylon flatwounds (Fender makes nylon roundwounds wich are really cool too) and it makes it a lot more fun mhwahhing around the neck.

    - with the nylon strings i also found it a lot easier to do a fast vibrato kinda thing which helps me really nail the note. it's a great way to cheat as it sounds like an intentional effect i'm using and lands me right where i wanna be.

    - i read in a bass player workshop to play the bass in total darkness. i did a handful of times. not sure if it did anything but i can tell ya it was hard. it must have helped me some. felt meditative.

    i love my fretlesses - i wound up buying another.

    last note - if it's a lined neck, your battle is half over. there is a HUGE difference IMO between playing a lined and unlined fretless. the first one I got was unlined, i still have fun wrestiling with it. the lined i was able to play as soon as i got it, i guess from all the practice i had gotten on the unlined. I love them both.
  8. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    Left hand position (right hand if you're playing left-handed) is more important on fretless. Thumb on the back of the neck, palm not touching, and as above, playing on the fingertips.

    I second the suggestion to practice in the dark. One way to do this is practice a song with the lights on, then at the end of the practice session, turn the lights off and see how different it is not being able to see the fretting hand. You're not just training your fingers, but your ear as well, so listen to the notes and hear the "beats" when you're not quite in tune and learn to adjust.

    If you're used to tuning to an electronic tuner, switch to tuning the strings by ear. It's good ear training. My metronome will produce a 440hz tone (A), so I start with the A string. Then tune the other strings by listening to the beats, either open or by harmonics.

    I like ground-wound strings for a balanced tone that doesn't rip apart the fingerboard. Nickel is a bit less hard on it (and your fingers!) than stainless.


    Don't expect to be playing all your favorite Jaco tunes on fretless and stay in tune/sound good.

    Start off slow, work on listening to the notes you're playing, not just hearing them.

  10. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    "was wondering if there's any useful snippets of info. anyone may have for moving to a fretless from fretted"

    The one and only piece of advice I can give is play it as often as possible. Practice, practice, practice.

    It took me about two years to settle in with my first fretless. I was "functional" during those two years (I could play with a band at gigs), but I couldn't always create the sounds I was hearing in my head.

    Also, don't stop playing the regular fretted bass if at all possible, it's good to give your hands something else to do once in a while. And the only other thing is, if you get a chance to play an upright go for it! It will help build the finger strength and dexterity that's needed for good fretless playing.

    Have fun! :)